A central Queensland community has been left “with a kick in the guts” as a proposed open-cut mine on a flood plain and prime agricultural land could still get the green light.  

Key points:

  • Baralaba, 140 km south-west of Rockhampton, thought it had won a fight against a proposed mine on a nearby flood plain
  • US giant Liberty Mutual is now selling its mining interests to American Metals and Coal International including its application
  • The Environmental Defenders Office is questioning whether the Queensland Government is following legal process

Locals thought they had won their fight in May, when owner Liberty Mutual revealed it was no longer pursuing its plans after a complaint was lodged with the United Nations.

However, the US giant is in the process of selling Baralaba Coal to American Metals and Coal International (AMCI) — along with its current application.

Save the Dawson community group chair Lex Webb said there has been no information from either company nor the Department of Environment and Science whether the proposed mine would be shelved.

He warned locals would “lose trust in the government as well.” 

Exemption from stricter laws

Two years ago, the Queensland Government brought in landmark rehabilitation reforms, which generally prohibit the approval of any open pits — or voids — on flood plains. 

However, mine companies that made their applications before November 1, 2019, could be exempt from this stricter legislation.

Liberty Mutual’s Baralaba South project applied for a new environmental authority that October.

A map of Baralaba showing the existing mine site and a new one on the flood plain to the south.

The Environmental Defenders Office wrote to the Environment Minister to ask whether the legislative process is being followed by the Department.(Supplied: Save the Dawson)

Mr Webb said the community had been left in the dark since then.

The company was then given until January 2020 to submit its environmental impact statement (EIS), which was extended until April 2021. It missed that deadline.

An EIS was the primary tool used within legislation to allow the state government to assess the environmental and social effects of a proposed development.

“Since that date, we’ve been wanting reasons from the government … why this EIS hasn’t been knocked on the head,” Mr Webb said.

Wider environmental concerns

The Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) managing lawyer, Revel Pointon, said the new owners, AMCI, would benefit from having the EIS process still open as they would be operating under the old rules.

“[The] big reform process a few years ago essentially tried to put more scrutiny over whether we should be putting coal mines on flood plains and to try and prevent them as much as possible, and this mine potentially won’t be subject to that scrutiny,” Ms Pointon said.

A drone shot of the Dawson River surrounded by arable farmland.

The proposed Baralaba South mine will be 500 m from the Dawson River, which flows into the Great Barrier Reef.(Supplied: Save the Dawson)

The EDO was seeking clarity from the Department of Environment and Science on where the EIS process was up to but had been told little, Ms Pointon said. 

“And we’re not seeing that, and we need to ensure that the department officers are actually following the legal process that’s set down in their laws.” 

Ms Pointon said if the Department of Environment and Science followed legal procedure, it should have refused the company’s EIS if it was not adequate at the initial January 2020 deadline. 

And if it had not been submitted, then it should go back to the terms of reference stage, she said.

“Ideally, we want this coal mine to be subject to the current laws, which provide more oversight over whether the mine should be allowed to be developed on a flood plain and then the filling of the final voids at the end to a safe and stable process,” Ms Pointon said.

Area under water from floods.

The area proposed for the mine was under water during the 2010 floods. (Supplied: Save the Dawson )

A Department of Environment and Science spokesperson confirmed that the company did not submit a revised EIS by the April 30, 2021 deadline.

“The department is seeking advice from the new owner, AMCI Coal Pty Ltd, on whether they wish to proceed with the submitted EIS, withdraw from the EIS process or make changes to the proposed project,” the spokesperson said.

The ABC has contacted both Liberty Mutual and AMCI to confirm the sale and did not receive a response. However, the ABC sighted emails from AMCI confirming Baralaba Coal would change hands in mid-December.

‘Kick in the guts’: Baralaba fears new battle over coal mine on flood plain
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